While Nelson’s history is in some respects similar to that of many small towns in southern New Hampshire, there are certain quirks which make our town stand out, for better or worse. We have been fortunate in recent years to have the opportunity to explore more deeply into our past. Work on the archives by Bert Wingerson and Susan Hansel have uncovered new information and resulted in the preservation of documents and artifacts. Rick Church has also extensively explored the archives and other sources, and has written numerous articles about the town’s history.

 The Short Version

The settlement of Nelson was established by a grant of land from the King.

King James I awarded John Mason a charter of land which included all the land between the Naumkeag (today called the Merrimack) and Pascataqua Rivers extending 60 miles inland.  The place was to be called New Hampshire and Mason’s charge was to settle the area. Mason died in 1635 leaving only minor heirs. The title to the lands fell into dispute – a dispute resolved by a court case in 1746, which awarded the right to most of the original grant to John Tufton Mason who in turn sold his rights to a group of men who came to be styled the Masonian Proprietors. On December 6, 1751 the Masonian Proprietors granted “Monadnock Number Six: (as the area of Nelson was then identified)  to another group of proprietors who would have the direct responsibility of settling the town.  One of them was Thomas Packer, who never in fact lived here, but for whom the town was briefly named. The first settlers were Breed Batchellor and Dr. Nathaniel Breed, who arrived in 1767, and it is this year that has been chosen as the birth-date of the town, which was officially incorporated in 1773.  The town changed its name to Nelson in 1814.

Like many small New England towns, Nelson had a steady growth in population through first few decades of the 19th century. Population figures are somewhat misleading, as the town in those days also included what is now the northern part of Harrisville. However, with the opening of the west, a decline in sheep farming, and the Civil War (to which Nelson contributed significantly), the population fell in to a decline which began a very slow reversal in the 1920′s. A chair industry once flourished in Munsonville (a “suburb”  of Nelson on the north side), and small mills dotted the landscape. But the town never had railroad service, and it’s hilly rocky terrain was a deterrent to aggressive settlement. Today there are no stores, and mostly just cottage industry. Nevertheless, the town has a rich cultural heritage of writers, artists, musicians, and craftsmen, and a very vibrant community exists.